The final conference of the Agency project ‘Vocational Education and Training: Policy and Practice in the field of Special Needs Education’ took place 12–13 November 2012 in Nicosia, Cyprus, in the framework of the Cyprus Presidency of the EU.
The opening address was given by Ms Olympia Stylianou, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Culture Cyprus. Ms Stylianou stressed the importance of the topic of VET, both for Cyprus and other European countries. She suggested that:
In this period where Europe faces significant economic difficulties it must be our commitment that those citizens who are the most vulnerable are not left behind. In our attempts for recovery we must ensure that existing programmes are maintained and developed so that those who are least able to promote their rights are assisted towards finding a meaningful and productive place in society.
This important message was echoed by Mr George Zissimos, Member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Vassiliou, responsible for Education. He stated that:
… despite such difficulties, education and training – including special needs education - should not be a victim of austerity and savings across the EU. If we are to be successful in a knowledge based economy, then our success depends on the degree that our education systems will offer to ALL our young people the right blend of competences. The cohesion of our societies depends on it. More simply put, our own future depends on it.
The message from the EU is straightforward: equipping young people and the working population as a whole – including people with special needs – with knowledge and skills that will improve their employability is a smart investment and reflects the needs of both the society and the world of labour.
The Agency’s three-year thematic project (2010–2012) has involved experts from 28 countries and focused on identifying and investigating relevant key aspects of initial vocational education and training (VET) programmes for students with special educational needs (SEN) aged between 14 and 25 with a clear link to employment opportunities. In particular, the project has investigated what works in VET for students with SEN and why.
The conference provided a platform for discussing the main outcomes of the thematic project, draw conclusions, reflect on different scenarios and place the outcomes in the wider European and international context.
Draft project outcomes were discussed in the form of working documents by experts and representatives from European and international organisations:
- A policy debate took place between representatives from European institutions and European and international organisations on their ‘responses’ to the project outcomes;
- An in-depth presentation was given on the various VET patterns followed by discussion with the stakeholders in working groups.
The final recommendations from the project will be submitted to the Agency member countries by the end of the year.
For more information on the outcomes of the conference and the VET project visit the project web area.